A government watchdog has found that federal authorities sent COVID-19 stimulus checks worth some $1.4 billion to over 1 million dead people.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that reports to Congress, released the findings in a June 25 report on the federal response to the pandemic.
The GAO noted in its report that as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Treasury Department “moved quickly” to disburse over 160 million economic impact payments, the official name for the CCP virus stimulus checks, the agencies left themselves open to misallocation risk.
“The agencies faced difficulties delivering payments to some individuals, and faced additional risks related to making improper payments to ineligible individuals, such as decedents, and fraud,” the watchdog said.
The IRS and Treasury jointly disbursed 160.4 million economic impact payments worth $269.3 billion. The GAO noted that of this amount, as of April 30, nearly 1.1 million payments totaling some $1.4 billion had gone to dead people.
To quickly help Americans impacted by the economic fallout from the pandemic, the agencies sent out stimulus checks “as rapidly as possible” based on procedures that did not use death records as a filter, the GAO noted in the report. The watchdog said this practice, which applied to initial batches of checks, “substantially increased the risk of potentially making improper payments to decedents.”
“Treasury and IRS did not use the death records to stop payments to deceased individuals for the first three batches of payments because of the legal interpretation under which IRS was operating,” the GAO explained, adding that starting with the fourth batch onwards, full death data was made available on a temporary basis to filter out decedents.
“We have suggested that Congress consider amending the Social Security Act to explicitly allow SSA to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to prevent payments to ineligible individuals,” The GAO recommended.
The report, which seeks to identify opportunities for improvement in the way the government has responded to the outbreak, looked at several response categories that followed four relief laws enacted by Congress, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.
The watchdog highlighted a number of “evolving lessons” from its review. These include the importance of establishing clear goals and defining roles and responsibilities for the range of federal agencies and other players when marshaling a whole-of-government response to emergencies like pandemics.
Other recommendations were to provide clear and consistent communication in the midst of a national crisis, as well as relying on “adequate and reliable data” to guide the response.